Most employee wellness programs offer some sort of incentive to encourage participation. Direct financial incentives are common enough, but I've always felt that their effectiveness is limited. After all, what will happen when the incentive is removed?
According to the New York Times, researchers are considering whether financial incentives can encourage people to take their medications properly. (Noncompliance is a huge problem: $100 billion in annual health costs stem from people not taking their medications as prescribed.)
In my experience, monetary incentives work best when they're tied to something specific -- participation in a health screening, for example. While it's not the best long-term solution, money is a great way to boost initial participation. For example, the Times article describes a program that offered patients $20 in gift cards in exchange for completing the first phase of their treatment. The incentive worked -- even though it was a one-time-only payment.
Want my two cents? Intrinsic motivation remains the best way to encourage long-term participation. When companies offer meaningful wellness programming that addresses participants' real needs and interests, they will be happy to join. It really is that simple.
For a lively discussion of the incentives issue, check out the disparate views of several experts at the Times' Room for Debate.